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  • Courtesy photo
    When you're working to get a big project ready to go, as the Merrimack Premium Outlets are, sometimes things go a little awry. The outlets' main sign was misspelled for a while Tuesday morning, as this photo, one of many taken by passing motorists and others, shows. The reversed letters were fixed not long after.
  • Staff photo by Lance Booth


    Alison Bardin, of Dallas, Texas, stocks a variety of pots at Le Creuset in the Merrimack Premium Outlets on Tuesday, June 12, 2012. The grand opening is June 14th.
  • Staff photo by Lance Booth


    Chelsea Einsideler-Moore, of Milford, goes through a rack of clothes at Bloomingdales in Merrimack Premium Outlets on Tuesday, June 12, 2012. The center will have 100 outlet stores and will be opening on June 14.
  • Staff photo by Lance Booth


    A line of bacelets is newly stocked at Bloomingdales in the Merrimack Premium Outlets on Tuesday, June 12, 2012.
  • Staff photo by Lance Booth


    Hannah Raynolds, of Bow, works on a cash register at Columbia in the Merrimack Premium Outlets on Tuesday, June 12, 2012.
Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The long and winding road: Merrimack Premium Outlets set to open Thursday, but the project dates back 8 years

MERRIMACK – Much like the countless hours of rehearsal that go into preparation for opening night of a Broadway play, the Merrimack Premium Outlets shopping center is ready for its debut Thursday morning.

At least that’s what the mall’s general manager, Elaine Devine, likened the beginning of the four-day grand opening celebration to. Nearly eight years in the making, the new shopping center will open its doors at 9 a.m. Thursday, with festivities running until Sunday evening.

“At this point, it’s just very exhilarating. It has been two years, and so many people have worked so hard and so long on this project to bring it to where we are today,” Devine said. “It’s a little like opening night on Broadway. We’re here, and we’re ready to go.”

The shopping center, off Exit 10 of the F.E. Everett Turnpike, was a flurry of activity Tuesday afternoon in preparation for the big day. Construction workers were busy erecting the last of the store signs, hauling away debris and finishing up landscaping. Store employees were spread throughout the entire 560,000-square-foot complex, some setting up stores, while others enjoyed their lunch breaks outside in the courtyard and even a few scoping out other businesses, which will total 100.

While it looks to be smooth sailing from now until the ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday morning, the project has traveled a long and bumpy road, beginning a little less than a decade ago.

The project’s roots

Developers first pitched the idea of Merrimack being home to an outlet mall in 2004. Before the idea could take flight, a small group of town residents formed the Concerned Citizens of Merrimack Alliance in February 2005. According to the articles of agreement for the nonprofit corporation, the object of the alliance was “raising awareness of sprawl and environmental issues affecting Merrimack.”

The now-defunct group petitioned the town to require a two-thirds majority for the zoning change to pass, which ultimately was not granted.

Some of the group’s former members sued the town in an effort to stop the development from moving forward. Merrimack Community Development director Tim Thompson said the outlets project began by traveling through a lengthy rezoning process because at the time, circa 2006, this approval had to go through a town meeting.

“It was controversial issue. There were lawsuits, there were challenges to the zoning. Ultimately, they were able to have the zoning upheld,” he said. “They began the Planning Board process, which I believe took about two years to get through that process. More law suits followed. All the law suits ended up being resolved, (and) construction began roughly two years ago on the site.”

The Merrimack Planning Board approved the project in September 2008.

Thompson noted that the large majority of the initial site construction included blasting. There also was extensive environmental monitoring conducted because of the mall’s proximity to the town’s water supply. He confirmed that there were environmental issues that resulted from construction, including noise, vibration and blasting violations.

“The town stopped blasting on two occasions for violation of the blasting protocol. … There was one recently since I took over within the last year that had to do with the level of nitrates that were showing up in the groundwater testing,” Thompson said, noting blasting was able to resume and was completed by mid-November. “It’s been a very long and arduous process.”

It has only been in the past year or so that physical construction of the 12-building complex began. Thompson is impressed with the pace the work has moved along.

“Given the number of construction workers they’ve had out there, it’s phenomenal to see how quickly this project has come together once they started the actual construction,” Thompson said. “When I started in August of last year, they only had the framing up for four of the buildings.”

Looking to the future

Devine plans on the outlet mall being a major staple in Merrimack for years to come.

“We’re here for the long haul and really want to develop a relationship with our shoppers and make Merrimack Premium Outlets have the local folks feel that this is their outlets,” she said. “While we’ll welcome thousands of people this weekend, we want to get to know them; we want to get to know what it is what they want. Also, a year from now, we’re hopeful that we’ll have other local businesses be able to come to us and say, ‘We have also benefited by having Merrimack Premium Outlets.’ … There’s a lot of that halo effect.”

Thompson believes that people will discover that the outlets in town will make Merrimack the place to be.

“I think our Town Council chairman put it pretty nicely … that this no longer makes Merrimack a drive-through. It’s now a destination out here,” Thompson said. “I think that and the traffic that this type of development can bring really makes the town more attractive to other spin-off types of development, be it … restaurants, other retail development.”

Thompson said the town has already seen some spin-off with the recent approval of a Dunkin’ Donuts near the entrance of the shopping center. This also includes the purchase of the land to the right of the entrance by local developer Rich Landry, who plans to build three eateries and a bank. Landry has yet to name the businesses and has not returned multiple phone calls. Thompson also cited restaurants expressing interest in opening a location in Merrimack, though none has committed yet.

“There’s a (patch) of nonresidentially zoned land in that general vicinity, which I think we will see some real activity in that part of town in the next few years,” he said.

Expanding the mall

The Community Development director said this recent interest in developing within the town’s borders doesn’t count the next phase of the project for the Merrimack Premium Outlets.

“There’s another four buildings that they can construct, plus the future phase includes potentially a hotel and additional restaurants,” Thompson said.

Devine said she did not have any comment about the next phase and was unaware of any plans for a hotel.

For a complete listing of events throughout the weekend, visit www.premiumoutlets.com/merrimack.